Public Comment

KPFA: A Response

By Henry Norr
Thursday October 15, 2009 - 01:57:00 PM

In his discussion of “What’s at Stake in the KPFA Board Election?” Matthew Hallinan starts out on the right track: there really are important substantive differences between the group he’s part of—the Concerned Listeners (CL)—and just about everyone else involved in the election, including not only the ticket I’m on—Independents for Community Radio—but also the other two slates in the race for the Local Station Board.  

But in seeking to explain these issues, Matthew sets up a straw man that only obscures the real nature of the contest.  Critics of the current CL majority and the status quo it supports, he tells us, “propose what is essentially an all-volunteer KPFA [with] no professional management and no paid staff."  

With all due respect, this is sheer fantasy. No one on the Independents for Community Radio list nor anyone else involved in the current election has made any such proposal, directly or indirectly. All the candidates recognize the need for paid management and staff. I for one wish we had stronger, more professional management—i.e., managers with training and/or pre-KPFA experience in running a media outlet. 

The question that actually divides us is not whether we need management, but how management should relate to other elements of the KPFA community. In the view of Independents for Community Radio and other critics of CL, the station’s traditions and professed values, not to mention the letter and spirit of the Pacifica by-laws, require that listeners and unpaid as well as paid staff should have a real voice in major decisions.  

In contrast, Concerned Listeners, in the name of “professionalism,” believe the station’s managers should make all major decisions by themselves. They have consistently supported the current management’s policy of dismantling, disempowering, or disregarding every representative body that has evolved over past years at the station. Some examples: 

• Management unilaterally dismantled the Program Council, a decades-old body that brought together representatives from management, paid and unpaid staff, the board, and community representatives to evaluate existing programs and new program proposals. Now top managers alone make all decisions about programming, without consulting anyone else—such as the current plan to eliminate the morning “Music of the World” show. There’s no longer even a procedure for anyone to submit a proposal for a new program. The by-laws oblige the Local Station Board to ensure that programming decisions are made in “a fair, collaborative and respectful manner.” Can anyone seriously claim that that’s the case today? 

• Management unilaterally “de-recognized” the Unpaid Staff Organization, the body that defends the interests of the people who produce about 70 percent of KPFA’s programming. Yes, UPSO hadn’t been functioning effectively for several years, but that apparently didn’t bother  management - they “derecognized” the group only when it started to get its act back together. When both KPFA Local Station Board and the Pacifica National Board passed resolutions directing management to reverse this “derecognition,” KPFA management defied them for months, giving in only in the face of direct orders from Pacifica’s interim Executive Director.  

• On the LSB itself, the Concerned Listeners group has used the majority it has maintained for three years to impose a do-nothing policy. After management called the police into the station to deal with a minor, non-violent dispute with unpaid programmer Nadra Foster, and the police brutalized Foster and hauled her off to the Santa Rita jail on five felony charges, we in the minority sought to have the board investigate the incident with an eye to developing policies that could prevent a repetition; CL refused to put the issue on the agenda. (To this day, the board has not held even one moment’s discussion of this deeply troubling incident.) On another occasion the minority, concerned about staff complaints of unfairness and unclarity in policies applied to them, as well as repeated complaints of sexual harassment (and expensive lawsuits as a result), requested copies of any written personnel policies in effect at the station, but CL went along with management’s refusal to turn over such policies—even though reviewing personnel policies is surely a basic function of a non-profit board. 

This year, CL’s response to declining listenership, a large financial deficit, and serious staff morale issues was to reduce the frequency of board meetings from the traditional monthly schedule to bi-monthly. They claim this will allow time for more work to be done in committee—an argument that might sound reasonable, except that the board under their control has no functioning committees! 

The CL majority has also gone out of its way to minimize communications between the LSB and the wider KPFA community. The by-laws oblige the LSB to “conduct ‘town hall’ style meetings at least twice a year, devoted to hearing listeners views, needs and concerns.” Under CL control the board has simply ignored this requirement—no such meeting has been held in years. 

And the CL member the majority elected to serve as secretary of the board—normally a capable person—has not managed to post either agendas or minutes of board meetings on the KPFA website since November 2008. 

Altogether, these realities are what Independents for Community Radio and other critics of the status quo mean when we talk about top-down, corporate-style management. Matthew Hallinan asks why seasoned progressive activists like CL would support such a model. That’s a good question. I wish he’d answered it. 

What, concretely, do the rest of us propose as an alternative? 

• The Program Council should be restored, so all elements of the KPFA community can work together to preserve and enhance what’s best in the station’s current programming and bring in new approaches and new voices to replace what’s gone stale. 

• The LSB, which is charged by the by-laws with the duty of evaluating the station’s general manager and program director, must make clear that respecting the letter and spirit of the by-laws is a requirement for these jobs. That means, among other things, that the general manager should attend LSB meetings regularly and use her time on the agenda not just to boast about fundraising successes (the current pattern), but to get input and feedback from the board and the community about major policy decisions.  

• The board itself should meet at least monthly, probably more often, rotating through all parts of the KPFA listening area. It should make complete, comprehensible agendas and minutes readily and promptly available. It should have functioning committees to (among other things) increase outreach and develop a strategic plan for enhancing KPFA’s online presence, which falls farther behind the technological curve by the month. And it should live up to all of its by-laws-mandated obligations. 

That’s some of what we mean by our slogan, “Putting the community back in community radio!” 

If you haven’t voted yet, you have until midnight tonight (Oct. 15). Please cast your top votes for me and others endorsed by Independents for Community Radio. 


Henry Norr is a candidate for re-election to KPFA’s Local Station Board.